“What do you all want to accomplish this season?” the coach asked her team as they gathered at the first official practice of the year.
“State Champions!” Jennifer shouted with approving nods and shouts from her teammates.
“Most goals ever!” said Mia with enthusiasm.
“I want to have more playing time.” Said Kelly, softly and under her breath with an eye roll as she scooted back further away from the group.
“We’ll try to show up on time once in a while!” came the voices of the James sisters in the back along with a knowing laugh from the rest of the team.
Goal setting is standard practice at the start of the season, and it’s an important exercise in getting the team to start making big plans. But what do your athletes visualize when the see those goals? If a state championship is a goal, are they visualizing the trophy, the final whistle, the field or court rush to celebrate? Are they visualizing all the great stuff that makes them feel fantastic? Because that’s what most of us do, isn’t it? Do they really want “IT?” or just the glory at the end of IT. Becuase you can’t want one part and not the other. They are the same.
There’s a great advantage to being able to put yourself into that moment and feel all the feels and want it so bad you can taste it. But there’s a disconnect that happens between training and the goal because we didn’t help them see the whole picture. When they see that goal, they feel happy and excited. They may not feel quite the same about getting on the end line or 6 am lifting sessions. But we know that the way they approach training is the exact result they will get when trying to compete, even though they may not have learned that lesson quite yet.
As coaches, we can help them create something a little stronger than an association between the yuck, the training, the discomfort, the sacrifice, and the process that brings that goal into fruition by including it in the vision we create with our team.
The follow-up discussion after the goals are made must be about how does it look to accomplish them. Not how does it look at the end, but rather how does it look today, tomorrow, and in the time we have preparing. Then we have to weave it together so tightly that they cannot see one without the other.
Next time they say they want a state championship and you ask them what that looks like there should be plenty of responses that have nothing to do with that glory moment and everything to do with pushing harder than their competition. If they want more playing time, they need to focus on much more than being out on the field more.
“It looks like early morning runs, coach.”
“Staying after practice to work on my ball handling.”
“Leaving so tired from gym sessions that I can’t turn the steering wheel.”
“It looks like putting some extra time to work through issues with my teammates.”
“It looks like the team lying in a sweaty pile at the end of practice day after day coach, content because we got it done once again!”
The lesson we are teaching as coaches is that -champions aren’t champions on some final game day after the win. They don’t show up as a decent team who did ok, and then suddenly they beat another team and BECOME champions. If that level of play is their goal, they have to be champions to the best of their ability on day one, and then they have to keep that status all the way til the end. That has to be a part of their expectation from the very start. It’s like the gift of giving everyone an A and then telling them they just have to keep it. You all are starting today as champions. If you bring that attitude and effort every single day, you’ll end the season as champions.
Sometimes we paint such an enticing vision of our destination while focusing on the glory moment that when things get hard, uncomfortable, or unpleasant (which should be just about every practice if we are truly getting better) then people want to shut down, quit, opt out. They signed up for the vision (either their own vision or the team vision), not the suck that it takes to get there. The vision starts today, friends. We don’t have to wait to get some title at the end, we build it and we start owning it on day 1 and here’s how it looks….
We often use that destination as the “bribe” to get them to work harder. But they have to own that picture all in one piece, not as separate entities.
A championship team looks like this every day.
A starter looks like this every day.
A fit athlete eats like this every day.
If you want to be that person then you have to live that life.
As coaches, we have to help our team create a vision that has a powerful response driving them to want to be there. Then we have to unquestionably associate that vision with the daily grind that is required to get it done so that they see and feel those things together as one and the same. But not only do we have to combine all of the pieces (of grit and of glory) for success as one connected piece, we have to remember the key ingredient to pulling this all together.
That little secret ingredient that people tend to throw aside when stress levels get high – Driving it with positivity, with belief, with love, with that same spirit of being connected that makes great teammates great and great coaches bring teams to new levels. Without this, the training becomes a chore instead of piece of the vision and it becomes disconnected from the mission of the team. Training can feel like a punishment if it’s not being presented as a gift and a tool to get players to their destination. Training should be celebrated, it can despite some opinions to the contrary, BE FUN! It can have excitement built around it and most of all, it should be associated with the vision often.
We must get rid of the mentality of “I’ll put up with this stuff I hate doing because I want to get (insert goal) in the end.” No, friends, that thing you hate doing is part of that goal, it is that goal. I love to run because I love the endurance that it brings me to over come my opponents on the field. The mindset shift is so important to truly embracing that process.
Next time your team tells you they want a big goal, give them a big smile and grab a white board marker and map that vision out and ask them again – your vision includes ALL of this. Is this still what you want? If they say yes, start building your plans. Have the team write their personal plans to create the vision. Make commitment sheets, hang those plans in their locker. Celebrate every piece of that goal as it happens. Turn around the team talk when they are doing something uncomfortable and teach them to embrace each piece.